When Dr. Margaret Sears-DeMenthon opened a pediatric practice in her home last year, she focused on the way things used to be done.
The Clarksville doctor spends an hour or more in each visit with patient and parents, counsels mothers to give their children regular doses of castor oil, and for really sick little ones, she will pack a bag of ointments and visit the child's bedside.
"It's sort of like being a country doctor - sort of cheerful and homey, let's make life easier for everyone," she said. "Really, it's going back to old medicine."
In a field dominated by health maintenance organizations and strongly influenced by pharmaceutical companies, Sears Pediatrics is tapping into a growing market of parents looking for more natural health solutions for their children, and Sears-DeMenthon may be a leader of professionals who are returning to making house calls.
A committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics began a study last month to investigate how many pediatricians are making house calls. There seem to be more physicians calling on patients at home, said Dr. Jack T. Swanson, chairman of the Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine, but there is no hard evidence of it.
A pediatrics academy survey of 729 pediatricians showed that about 50 offered house calls to all patients, and another 54 offered the service to sick patients only. Some 32 percent of respondents - about 233 - ignored the question on house calls.
"We're hearing more of it, so it probably is increasing," Swanson said. "We're trying to find numbers to really document that it's growing."
Swanson said concern about patients and better service may be driving the trend - if there is one - but he said he did not know of any connection between house visits and doctors who practice alternative or complementary medicine.
The use of alternative medicine among Americans is a growing trend the academy has documented.
A report issued last month from the group noted that more than one-third of adults in the United States have used complementary or alternative medicines in recent years, and up to half of the children diagnosed with autism probably are using some form of alternative medicines.
Use of complementary medicine is "especially likely" among children with chronic illnesses or disability, the report said.
Sears-DeMenthon considers dietetic and environmental factors that may be causing problems for a child, and that is why she can easily spend an hour with a parent, going over what the child eats and any reactions to the food.
She also tries to educate parents on health issues that sometimes end up with changes for the entire family, she said. Rarely does a parent leave without recommendations for herbal soups or teas.
The approach seems to be gaining favor in Howard County. Although her practice is not profitable, it's close, Sears-DeMenthon said, and the fact that she accepts several insurance companies and preferred provider organizations helps. Since opening her practice in July with six clients, she has increased business tenfold.
Many of her new clients, like Kelly Stumpf, whose 11-month-old daughter, Payton, often suffered from colds, complain that their traditional doctors were not responsive enough.
"Her old doctor just said she'll have to wait it out," said Stumpf, whose daughter is now on a regimen of vitamins to strengthen her immune system. "My daughter has been doing a lot better."
Although she has never tried alternative medicines, she said, she approves of what Sears-DeMenthon has done for her daughter.
"I would definitely recommend her," Stumpf said.